Some people dismiss the allegations against Julian Assange as trivial. I find that hard to stomach. Making someone do something sexual that they don’t want to do is never trivial. The idea that he is wanted over a breaking condom exists only in the minds of commentators who have waded too deep into rhetoric.
On the other hand, we should be clear that he has not been charged with rape. He has not been charged, in fact, with anything. He was wanted for questioning. There is some confusion about what this is in relation to, but this is partly because Swedish law doesn’t map neatly onto ours, partly because it is not so forthcoming with details of sexual crime allegations.
This has led to confusion and unfortunate speculation, because while on one hand it is pretty clear that the allegations do not amount to rape in Swedish law, on the other it seems that rape in Swedish law is defined exclusively as sexual assault with violence. If rumours are to be believed – and I should emphasise the ‘if’ – the main allegation concerns him continuing to have sex even though he knew a condom had broken. To my mind, yes, that is morally a form of rape. A lesser form perhaps than sex obtained by threats or by drugging someone or taking advantage of their being too drunk to know what they are doing, but unquestionably a case of making someone do something sexual that they didn’t want to do.
Whether it is something you could ever conceivably get a criminal conviction for, that is another question. So it’s true that some circumstances of this investigation look peculiar. But if the Swedish authorities seem to be pursuing him with an unusual level of diligence, one can hope this is because it’s unusual to have such allegations made against someone so in the public eye.
One must hope that.
Because whatever you think of the decisions Wikileaks has made about what to release to the media, it must be remembered that it does nothing illegal itself. If anyone is committing any crime – and again, that is another very big if and another difficult moral question – it is the insiders who leaked the material. Oh, and any American who reads it even after it’s been published – technically that is illegal. So the US Air Force has blocked the website of The Guardian, Columbia students have been warned that discussing the information could damage their careers. It seems to me that if Wikileaks is bringing about this sort of imbecilic institutional reaction, it is definitely doing something right.
Wikileaks is innocent. But I hope that Assange is guilty, or at least under well-founded suspicion. Why? Because the alternative – that sexual crime charges have been falsified against him in order to suppress a threat to US interests – would mean that Western civilisation is on fire and what’s left is not worth pissing on to save.